A 7,025-foot volcano erupted in El Salvador Sunday, beginning at 10:30 a.m. sending up a shooting gas and smoke stream that reached over 3 miles high.
The cloud of dark ash that went straight into the sky signaled what was likely to come next - the hot molten lava that follows an explosion of this kind. Civil Defense Director Jorge Melendez issued a yellow alert, and sent investigators to the base of the volcano to detect signs of lava, however none had been discovered as yet.
The volcano is named Chaparrastique, and it has been dormant for 37 years. It lies about 86 miles to the east of the capital, San Salvador.
"The evacuations began almost right after the explosion," said civil protection official Armando Vividor. He said some 5,000 people lived around the volcano.
"We are not certain there will be new eruptions, but we can't rule out that possibility either," President Mauricio Funes said in a televised address urging residents near the volcano in the department of San Miguel to leave their homes and head to shelters.
Authorities warned residents not to approach the area near the volcano, which is located in eastern El Salvador. Anyone in the area was advised to wear masks or moist handkerchiefs over their faces to avoid inhalation of danger gasses, smoke and ash.
The international airport in San Salvador, the capital, redirected some flights to other airports, including in Guatemala, to avoid the ash.
"We have implemented emergency measures to evacuate villages located within 3 kilometers of the volcano," Melendez said. Shelters have been set up for the evacuees, but Melendez said some inhabitants had been loath to leave their homes. "One has to leave for one's own safety," he said.
Assistant Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza said two people had been treated at hospitals for respiratory problems apparently linked to the eruption, "but we do not have any serious cases to report."
"We are providing assistance to people evacuating, and we are asking them to protect themselves against the gases, which can affect the respiratory tract," Espinoza said. He also urged inhabitants near the volcano to avoid drinking from local water sources.
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